Sticktoitiveness keeps this Sault manufacturer on a growth curve: Fibrestick Manufacturing supplying MDF products to construction industry.

Author:Kelly, Lindsay
Position:Sault Ste. Marie

Ryan Connolly still doesn't know what magic formula landed his company, Fibrestick Manufacturing, on the 2018 Growth 500 list.

Yet there it is, one of only two Northern Ontario businesses to be included among tech startups, financial services ventures, and marketing firms from across Canada that are five to 10 times its size.

But if perseverance, tenacity and a nose-to-the-grind work ethic are part of the equation, then Connolly and Fibrestick qualify in spades.

"The company's doing very well. We've had slow but steady growth, not big jumps," said Connolly, the company's president and CEO. "Every year we grow a little bit, add a little bit more."

Located in Sault Ste. Marie's north end industrial park, the company manufactures products for the building construction industry out of medium-density fibreboard (MDF) sourced from the nearby Auraco Flakeboard plant.

Connolly purchased the company in 2006, with just four employees and two customers on board. Today, he has a client list of about 15, and employs 18 people, who run the plant Monday to Thursday from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The shop is completely shut down for two weeks every year--at Christmas and during the first week of August--so that everyone can take vacation time.

It's been a slow build-up to this point.

Using the raw material sourced from Flakeboard, the company began by supplying dunnage--small lengths of wood used to secure cargo or products during transportation--to just two customers: Flakeboard's Sault plant and Weyerhaeuser's oriented strand board facility in Wawa.

Over several months after his acquisition, Connolly sourced some new, smaller clients. But within a year of purchasing the business, the housing crisis hit, and Weyerhaeuser closed the Wawa plant, leaving Fibrestick with Flakeboard as its only major client.

"It was a little tense," Connolly chuckled. "That wasn't one of my better days."

The closure spurred him to look a little closer at what else the company could do, and through his contacts at Flakeboard, came across a small manufacturer in Collingwood producing doorjambs for Masonite, a U.S.-headquartered doormaker.

As luck would have it, the owner was looking to retire, and so, for the second time in as many years, Connolly found himself acquiring a business. He disassembled all the plant's equipment, transported it up to the Sault, and reinstalled it in his shop. But the rug was pulled out from under him when Masonite cancelled his contract to partner with a...

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